By: Spencer Tawes
With the 2016 season less than a month away, I’d like to start coverage of the Patriots with a look back at what went wrong to an almost glorious season.
The Pats opened up last season with their butts atop the NFL throne as the reigning champs of the league, while at the same time pointing their middle finger directly towards Roger Goodell. Not only was the Deflategate ruling overturned by a court of law, but now Patriots fans got a front row seat to witness Angry Tom. What a time to be alive in New England.
Brady and the boys started the year off winning their first three games, with an especially impressive victory in Buffalo versus the trash talking division rival. It seemed like everything was working well for New England during those first three weeks; Brady had yet to thrown an interception, running back Dion Lewis was a gift from the football gods, and the defense looked as good as it ever had ever been.
The Patriots continued to sail smoothly up until week 10 when the team found themselves playing the New York Giants. The first true test for the Pats, where not only skill came into play, but a lot of luck. This narrow victory had New Englanders smelling that recent bitter, yet sweet aroma of a perfect season.
This faint scent quickly dissipated when the harsh reality of football hit them in the face with the number of significant injuries that were quickly piling up. With a victory over Buffalo to solidify the teams superiority over their opponent that season, the injury-riddled Pats headed to Angry Tom’s kryptonite, Denver. The trip to the mile-high city, in my opinion, is where the Patriots season takes an ugly turn for the worst.
Either the Patriots struggle against the altitude, or the whole team collectively joins in and takes advantage of certain legal laws in Denver before gameday. Whatever the case, these past few years should be an indication for future reference that under no circumstances should the Patriots settle for playing in Denver. Onto the game, the Patriots had all the momentum for most of the time.
Up seventeen midway through third quarter, up against a struggling offense with an inexperienced quarterback under center with possession about to change back with New England.
Life was good….until the fourth string punt returner fumbled the ball giving it back in great field position.
Now you may ask, why was the fourth string punt returner in during such a crucial stretch of the game? Injuries. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Keshawn Martin were unavailable, leaving the young and inexperienced Chris Harper to try and make the play. The game ended with 50-50 calls going in the favor of the home team, along with a nasty looking helmet to the knee injury for Gronk. And in the end the highlight of the loss came down to special teams, the most overlooked part of any football game.
Fast forward two months, with New England about to play for their tenth AFC championship under Tom Brady. He and the team had limped into the postseason, dropping games against both New York and Miami.
Clearly not heeding my advice to avoid playing in Denver at all cost, showing no interest in retaining home field advantage throughout the postseason. But here we were, the final Brady-Manning matchup that had all fans antsy with anticipation. Denver came out strong on both sides on the ball; pressuring Brady on defense and finishing their drives on offense.
Yet the biggest play that decided this game didn’t come from offense or defense, it came from once again the execution of special teams. Stephen Gostkowski, statistically the league’s best extra point kicker in the history of the NFL, missed. Leaving the Patriots in that awkward position of being down a single point.
This eventually led to questionable decisions made by coach Bill Belichick, opting to go for it on fourth down while in field goal range, TWICE. The Patriots season ended on a failed two point conversion that would have forced the game into overtime. The combination of injuries, lack of luck with the 50-50 calls within the AFC championship, and special team miscues seemingly halted the excellent season of MVP-candidate Tom Brady and his ring-seeking Patriots.
Marking the final chapter in the 2015-16 NFL season for the New England Patriots.
As Patriot fans say goodbye the remembrance of last year, this next season starts with fans getting a glimpse into the future with their third year quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, starting the first four weeks.
With Tom Brady, playing the role of the little man, and getting squashed by the giant that is commissioner Goodell and the corporation of the NFL. Will the Pats be able to maintain their level of consistency that New England has grown accustomed to seeing? Stayed tuned to see what lies ahead for the Patriots this season!
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